Well known global marketing thinker and researcher Dr A. Parasuraman ("Parsu") served as a Professor and Holder of the James W. McLamore Chair in Marketing (endowed by the Burger King Corporation) and Director of PhD Programs at the School of Business, University of Miami till 2019. After his education at IIT Madras and IIM Ahmedabad, Dr Parasuraman had moved to U.S. for his DBA at Indiana University and stayed on for research and academic career.
In mid 1980s, he published research papers in top academic journals on the Service “GAPs model” and SERVQUAL Model for measuring Service Quality which made a big impact on marketing thinking. In 1998 he received the American Marketing Association’s “Career Contributions to the Services Discipline Award” and numerous other awards.
Recently, to “give back to India”, Dr A. Parasuraman became part of the leadership team at the newly formed Vijaybhoomi University Mumbai. In this interview with MBAUniverse.com, he shares highlights of his distinguished academic and research career, advice to young research scholars and how he is building a new curriculum at Vijaybhoomi University. Edited excepts follow.
Q: You are most well-known for developing the SERVQUAL Model for measuring Service Quality, which coincided with the services marketing revolution of 1980s. What led to the development of this model, and what has been the impact of it?
A: In the mid to late 1970s, a growing number of companies started considering quality of service as the primary, if not sole, source of sustainable competitive differentiation and advantage because of the proliferation of look-alike, similarly-priced products in many sectors. Yet, there was a dearth of research-based guidance available to managers for understanding, assessing, and improving service quality. While there was considerable academic research and published work in the domain of quality, virtually all of it focused on goods or manufacturing quality, not service quality. This serious void in the literature, coupled with companies’ keen interest in enhancing service quality, and their willingness to support scholarly research aimed at developing new knowledge in this domain, were the key drivers that led to the development of the “Gaps Model of Service Quality” (published in the Journal of Marketing in 1985), followed by the development of SERVQUAL (published in the Journal of Retailing in 1988).
The “Gaps Model of Service Quality” is a conceptual framework that brings together customers’ and companies’ perspectives vis-à-vis service quality shortfalls. Companies can use it to systematically examine service shortfalls experienced by customers (i.e., the “external gap” between customers’ service expectations and their perceptions of the delivered service) and various organizational deficiencies (i.e., “internal gaps”) that could be contributing to the external gap. SERVQUAL is a measurement scale for quantifying the nature and extent of the external gap experienced by customers along five key service dimensions (reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy and tangibles). Both the conceptual “Gaps Model” and the empirically-derived SERVQUAL scale are based on rigorous research involving the collection and analysis of extensive data from multiple sectors.
Both are robust models that have stood the test of time and are continuing to have a significant impact on service-related scholarly research, business practice and pedagogy. For instance, to date the two aforementioned published papers have garnered over 32,000 citations each. The “Gaps Model” and SERVQUAL scale are also the basis for numerous consulting assignments/reports, several business books, doctoral dissertations, as well as text books and book chapters on service marketing, service operations, service design, etc.
Q: Having taught at Miami Business School, University of Miami for a long period, you are one of the most well-known marketing thinkers and educators in the world. How has Marketing changed in the last decade and what key changes do you see in the Post COVID world?
A: One of the biggest – and most visible – changes in marketing has been the exponential increase in marketers’ interest in deploying emerging technologies and technology-based platforms to try to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of activities associated with the so-called “4 Ps” of the “marketing mix”—product, promotion, price and place. Terms such as digital marketing, mobile marketing, social media, search engines, dynamic pricing, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, etc. have become part and parcel of the mainstream marketing lexicon. The rapid technological changes impacting marketers have also altered consumer behaviour in perceptible ways (e.g., how consumers search and shop for products and services, the key drivers of their purchase decisions, their consumption habits, etc. have all undergone changes within the last decade). Despite these technology-triggered changes however, the conventional cornerstones of marketing such as segmentation, targeting and positioning (“STP”) are as relevant today as they were decades ago. And, the fundamental roles of marketing – namely identifying and fulfilling unmet market needs in a superior fashion that fosters the wellbeing, satisfaction and sustainability of multiple stakeholders (consumers, company owners, employees, society, environment, etc.) – are still the same.
The current COVID crisis is obviously having a profound impact on marketers and consumers, as it is on virtually all other facets of people’s lives and livelihoods worldwide. A massive disruption of this magnitude is unprecedented. Whether and when things will return to the previous state of normalcy in the marketplace are still uncertain. However, innovative marketers (and consumers) are devising creative ways to cope with the crisis, thereby generating a potentially rich repository of case studies, ideas and data that can eventually be analysed to derive general lessons or principles vis-à-vis crisis management, product and service innovation, sustainability, etc. that marketers can employ in the post-COVID world. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the fundamentals of sound marketing that existed in the pre-COVID era will remain relatively intact post-COVID as well.
Q: With so many citations and numerous articles in top US marketing journals, you are one of the most prolific researchers. What is your advice to Indian researchers who want to do impactful research?
A: Based on a retrospective look at my long journey (40+ years) as a researcher, I would offer five general suggestions, especially for scholars who are relatively early in their academic careers.
- First and foremost, choose a research topic or domain that has “evolutionary potential” – that is, a topic/domain that is important and broad enough to support a series of research projects over time, each building on and extending the previous one(s). In my case, as previously mentioned, the domain of service quality was important in the early 1980s because of keen practitioner interest coupled with a dearth of research-based guidance available to practitioners. The service-quality domain was also quite broad, with a variety of unexplored issues embedded in it that could not all be addressed in one research study. Thus my service-quality research journey began with the creation of the conceptual gaps model (which took about 3 years to develop), followed by the development of SERVQUAL (which took another 3 years). This, in turn, was followed by a series of other major studies (e.g., to refine and extend SERVQUAL, to develop a detailed model of the nature and determinants of customer expectations, to develop “E-S-QUAL,” a scale to measure “electronic service quality,” etc.). My research journey in the customer-service domain still continues with my current work focusing on understanding and assessing the growing role of technology and its implications for marketers. In a nutshell, scholars who pursue thoughtful, “programmatic” research over time are much more likely to produce impactful work than are those who pursue what I would label as “opportunistic” research (i.e., cashing in on any one-shot, narrowly-focused research opportunity that just happens to come along).
- Choose research collaborators who share your core scholarly values, but whose skills and expertise complement, rather than duplicate, your own. Research produced by co-investigators with diverse backgrounds and/or from different disciplines is likely to be richer and more impactful than is research produced by homogeneous teams.
- If at all possible, conduct your research in multiple sectors or contexts to enhance the robustness and generalizability of the research findings.
- Do not try to do too much in a single study. It is better to focus on a few issues and study them systematically and thoroughly than to spread yourself too thin by including additional issues (perhaps motivated by the possibility of getting multiple publications out of a single study).
- Disseminate your study findings through different forums (e.g., scholarly journals as well as practitioner-oriented publications) to reach diverse audiences.
Q: You are part of the leadership team at Vijaybhoomi University. What got you interested in this start-up university in Mumbai?
A: There is a bit of background “history” to this that I would like to share briefly. In the years leading up to my retirement from the University of Miami in August 2019 (after living and working in the United States for over 46 years), I began contemplating spending more professional time in India after retirement to share my learnings as a researcher and educator and to “give back” to my motherland in some meaningful way. As luck would have it, I had a chance meeting in early 2016 with Atish Chattopadhyay at MICA, where he was the dean but was soon to become the director of IMT-Ghaziabad. We discussed at length our views on improving research, teaching, industry collaborations, etc. in Indian business schools. Our initial meeting went very well and blossomed into a full-fledged professional relationship at IMT-G, followed by an even stronger, multi-faceted involvement at the IFIM B-School in Bengaluru in late 2018 where Atish had become the director.
At IFIM I met with Sanjay Padode, the School’s founder. Several additional inspiring interactions with Atish and Sanjay as well as the innovative curriculum changes and bold initiatives that were in the offing at IFIM convinced me that IFIM was the ideal setting for me to try to realize my post-retirement aspirations. My joining the leadership team at the newly formed Vijaybhoomi University was an organic extension of my deepening relationship with IFIM since both institutions are interlinked and share the same founding sponsors, cultural values, and educational vision. With Sanjay as President and Chancellor of Vijaybhoomi University and Atish as Vice Chancellor, I readily agreed to join the team as Pro Chancellor-Academics when they requested me to assume that role.
Q: As the Pro-Chancellor Academics, you have been deeply involved in drawing out a new curriculum at Vijaybhoomi University. How will you describe the academic philosophy and what makes your Curriculum and Pedagogy unique?
A: Vijaybhoomi University is perhaps India’s only truly “liberal professional” university with the mission of developing and nurturing “holistic, socially responsible and continuously employable professionals.” Its novel business curriculum (Curriculum 4.0) is designed to uniquely and effectively meet the needs of Industry 4.0 by transforming incoming students into T-shaped professionals, with in-depth training and expertise in a particular functional area, discipline or specialty (i.e., the vertical bar of the T), along with broad exposure to a variety of disciplines outside their core area of expertise (i.e., the horizontal bar of the T). The uniqueness of VU’s business curriculum, including the novel pedagogical approach use to deliver it, stems from the fact that it has been developed based on:
(1) A thorough review and synthesis of key insights from relevant extant literature on business education (e.g., the seminal book on “Rethinking the MBA” by Harvard Business School Professor Srikant Datar and his colleagues), industry needs (e.g., the World Economic Forum’s report on “The Future of Jobs”), and students’ learning styles (e.g., Howard Gardner’s “Theory of Multiple Intelligences”); and
(2) Findings from a recently-completed, comprehensive IFIM-NHRDN study to understand and further explore Industry 4.0 needs that are especially relevant in an emerging-country context and the student skill sets necessary to address those needs effectively.
Q: What were the key findings of the IFIM-NHRDN study?
The study revealed the following categories of skills as being critical for effectively addressing the needs of Industry 4.0:
- Learning orientation and analytical mindset
- Integration of data, communication and technology
- Solution orientation and problem solving
- Dealing with change and uncertainty (unstructured situations)
- People and team orientation
- Innovation and creativity – entrepreneurial orientation
- Social sensitivity and cross-cultural orientation
- Managing self (self-awareness, self-development including wellness)
- Business orientation – multidisciplinary approach
- Globalisation/global mindset
The study’s findings, apart from reinforcing several of the insights gleaned from our review of relevant prior literature, led to new learnings and imperatives, which in turn led to the incorporation of truly novel program modules and pedagogical approaches into IFIM/VU’s Curriculum 4.0. For instance, student wellness and fitness are now fully integrated into the curriculum in the form of a “Personal Enhancement Program (PEP)” module, managed by a dedicated PEP faculty group. As another example, to foster innovative, curious and analytical mindsets, real-life research projects – wherein students “learn by doing” – is intertwined throughout the curriculum, as part of many of the courses and as stand-alone practice-oriented research modules, with the faculty serving more as mentors and coaches than as traditional lecturers. It is noteworthy that almost a third of the total course credits in the curriculum are assigned to research-focused components. Additional details about this novel curriculum and its distinctive features are available in a succinct article by Atish Chattopadhyay titled “Curriculum 4.0 for Industry 4.0,” recently published in EFMD’s Global Focus Magazine (Issue 2, Volume 14, 2020).
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